Cathy Kelly 3-book Bundle (4 page)

BOOK: Cathy Kelly 3-book Bundle
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‘Who cares about the ozone layer?’ he grumbled as he sprayed. ‘Did you see Britney in the

They gossiped while Izzie dutifully took her espresso medicine and Marcello worked his magic.

‘You like?’ he said finally, holding up a mirror so she could see the back.

He’d turned her caramel ripples into a swathe of soft curls that framed her face and softened it. Audrey hadn’t been right, Marcello had decided early on. She was a light-brunette Marilyn.

‘I love it! I’m grotto fabulous,’ Izzie joked. ‘Like ghetto fabulous, but the Catholic version.’

‘And you think
should have my own show?’ Marcello grinned. ‘You’re the comedienne.’

The world at the Plaza that lunchtime was so not Izzie’s milieu that her New Yorker cool was rattled. She stared. Used to the fashion world where wearing American Apparel dressed up with something by McQueen was considered clever, it was odd to see so much high-end designer bling in one spot.

This was a combination of stealth wealth – clothes, jewellery and accessories so expensive and elite that there was no brand visible apart from the reek of dollars – and good old-fashioned nouveau riche, where no part of the anatomy was allowed out unless it was emblazoned with someone else’s name: Tommy Hilfiger’s, Vuitton’s, Fendi’s.

Women toted rocks worth more than a year’s rent on Izzie’s apartment, and it was hard not to be dazzled by the mega carats on show. Still, Izzie’s face betrayed none of this.

The tallest, biggest girl in the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Tamarin had to learn to look cool, calm and collected. Izzie never raised her chin haughtily into the air – she didn’t need to. She wore self-assurance like a full-length cloak, draping it round herself to show that she was happy, centred and able for the world on any terms.

Her hair, thanks to Marcello, was fabulous. Her grape silk wrap dress – from a new designer nobody had heard of who understood draping curvy figures – might have cost the merest fraction of the clothes worn by the other guests, but she looked stunning in it. Self-belief, as her darling Granny Lily always said, was more valuable than any diamond.

Izzie didn’t have any diamonds, on purpose. No man had ever bought one for her and, somehow, diamonds had come to represent coupledom in her head. Men bought diamonds in glorious solitaire settings as engagement rings for girlfriends, or a half-circle band of diamonds for the birth of babies. Strong single women bought strong jewellery for themselves.

So Izzie wore her Venetian-inspired bangles and dangling earrings with pride, because she’d written the cheque herself. She mightn’t have paid for her twenty-thousand-dollar ticket, but she was as good as anybody here.

The ballroom was beautifully formal and all cream: cream table cloths, cream bows on the chairs, cream roses rising from the centrepieces with a froth of baby’s breath softening the look. It was very pretty and reeked of money.

At her table, there were six women, including herself, and two men. One was young, handsome and accompanying a beautiful, very slim woman with a youthful face, telltale middle-aged décolleté, and an emerald necklace of such
staggering beauty and obvious value that it was probably only out of the bank vault for the day.

The other man at the table was in a different league altogether. Forty-something, steely grey eyes that surveyed the room like a hawk, tightly clipped dark hair and a slightly weather-beaten face that wouldn’t have looked out of place under a cowboy hat, he had a definite presence. He didn’t need the exquisite perfection of his Brioni suit to give away the fact that he was a mogul of some sort or other.

Izzie knew the signs. If there was a checklist for the typical alpha male with a commanding presence, the Brioni suit guy ticked all the boxes.

Elegance, utter self-confidence, a fleeting hint of ruthlessness: he had it all.

There was also the fact that one of the other female guests, whom Izzie recognised from the gossip pages, was flirting with him like the last Ark was leaving town and she needed a man for it. Professional hunters of rich men only picked on the really rich and powerful.

The woman with the emeralds kept talking to him about super-yachts. Izzie idly wondered what a super-yacht was; from the odd snippet of conversation that reached her, this floating palace which needed sixty full-time staff sounded more like a liner than a yacht.

She did think of asking, just for the fun of dropping a spanner in the social works, but decided against it.

As the meal progressed, Izzie couldn’t help keeping an eye on the guy, pegging him as a mega-rich wheeler-dealer who’d spent years in the dirty business of making money and now, finally, was shaking the prize-fighter’s dust from his hands and looking for some worthy charity to climb a much steeper ladder: the New York class ladder.

She didn’t want him to see her looking. That would be so embarrassing.

But she couldn’t stop.

Hello, you

She didn’t say it, but she thought it. This man was surely out of her league on so many levels. Rich guys went for young beauties: end of story. A normal New York career woman wouldn’t stand a chance.

But still…he was looking at her, making her stomach flip.

‘…so I phoned him, I said I wouldn’t, but you know, men never take the initiative…’ went on the woman to Izzie’s left. Linda was blonde and botoxed to look forty rather than her actual fifty years. Having started by saying she loved Izzie’s dress and adored her jewellery, she was now mournfully recounting her own Manhattan dating tales as she toyed with her entrée, pushing the radicchio and feta salad around her plate in the prescribed manner.

Izzie managed to swivel her head away from the hard-edged mogul man and concentrated on her neighbour’s story, as well as her own tuna steak.

‘You’re going on a date with this guy, then?’ she asked Linda.

‘Sort of. Is it a date if he says he’ll meet up at a party you’re both going to anyway?’

Izzie winced. It seemed that wealthy divorcées were just like ordinary women after all. She decided to give the sort of advice she’d give a friend. ‘Not a date, really. More a promise of a date unless something better comes up,’ she said. No point in fudging. ‘He’s hedging his bets, Linda.’

Linda sighed. ‘That’s what I think. I want to say no, but I like him…’

‘If he likes you, that’s fine,’ Izzie said firmly. ‘But don’t put your heart on the line so he can toy with you. Linda, men can sniff out dating despair the way an airport sniffer dog can home in on ten kilos of Red Leb. If you tell yourself you don’t need this guy, then you’ve got a better chance. And if he doesn’t really mean it, then you haven’t
compromised yourself by wearing your heart on your sleeve. Trust me.’

‘Yeah, been there, done that, got the T-shirt,’ sighed Linda. ‘I used to give advice like that too, when I was your age. But I’m not any more: your age or giving that advice. Let me tell you, honey, when you get older, you get desperate. You don’t care if they know it. Shit, they know it anyway. This town’s full of women like me, and the guys all know the story. I don’t want to be alone. Why hide that?’

Izzie’s soft heart contracted. She grabbed Linda’s bony arm and squeezed it. She hadn’t expected this sort of honesty in such a place. Here, where it was all for show, it was strange and yet refreshing to find Linda and her straightforwardness.

‘Oh, listen to me, I sound all whiny,’ Linda said, finally putting her fork and knife down on her pushed-around-yet-uneaten meal.

‘That’s not whining – that’s being truthful,’ Izzie smiled. ‘I have this conversation with my girlfriends all the time. It’s a toss-up between being on our own for ever and getting used to it, or boarding the first plane to Alaska where there are single men dying to meet you.’

‘Why can’t the Alaska guys come to the Upper East Side?’ Linda wanted to know.

‘Because then, I guess, they’d become New York men and suddenly they’d have supermodels throwing themselves at their feet and they wouldn’t want us normal women any more.’

‘Oh, save me from models,’ sighed Linda.

Izzie laughed this time. ‘I work with models,’ she explained. ‘I’m a booker with Perfect-NY.’

Linda looked at her with respect. ‘Look at me whining about being lonely, when you’ve got to compete with
. There isn’t enough Lexopro in the world to make me work with models.’

‘Really, they’re just kids who happen to look that way,’ Izzie pointed out. ‘Lots of models are just as messed up as the rest of us. Looking amazing doesn’t fix any of the stuff on the inside.’

‘I could deal with a lot of shit inside, if I looked like that on the outside,’ Linda said fervently. ‘Still, I guess they’ll get old too one day.’

‘You’re not old,’ Izzie insisted.

Linda looked at her. ‘In this town, Izzie, once you’re sliding down towards fifty, you might as well get a Zimmer frame. Screw surgery and botox: men want real youth and taut little asses and ovaries that still pump out an egg. They might not want a kid, but they want a woman who could have one if they changed their mind. They want
, end of story.’

She sounded so harsh, so bitter, that Izzie could say nothing in response. For once, her appetite deserted her.

All conversation stopped while the fashion show and auction part of the lunch began. Waiters silently cleared away the dishes, African-inspired techno music pumped out of the speakers, and the show began.

Izzie watched as the models – many of whom were from Perfect-NY, supplied free of charge for the event – stalked up and down the runway. Normally, she watched her girls intensely, scanning their moves and faces to see who looked content, who looked bored and whose pupils betrayed too many sips of the pre-show champagne. But today, Izzie was still shaken as she thought about her conversation with Linda and what she’d left unsaid: that she was scared of being alone too.

It had been a long time since she’d admitted that to anyone, or even to herself.

Marriage had seemed inevitable when she was growing up in Tamarin: you met someone and got married, simple as that. It would all fall into place gently, without you having to do anything.

Except that she’d left Tamarin for London and then New York, a place where the same boy-meets-girl-and-get-married rules didn’t seem to apply. Now, while all of her old school friends had at least one marriage under their belts, she hadn’t even come close to being engaged.

Finding the right person seemed a bit like a space shuttle coming back to earth – there was a remarkably small window of opportunity, much smaller than anyone realised, and if you missed it, you had to hope you’d find another window before it was too late.

When the single guys were gone, you had to wait for the next round – the ones who’d been married, got divorced, and were ready to go again. Except that they went for younger women, maybe ten years younger. And the women the same age as the guys were the ones who lost out.

Izzie thought about her forthcoming fortieth birthday in November.

A passionate Scorpio, as her astrologically-mad friend, Tish, liked to remind her. Izzie and Tish had lived together on the second floor of a three-storey walk-up in the West Village when Izzie had first come to New York.

They were the same age, in the same industry – Tish was a photographer’s assistant – and both were immigrants. Ten years on, Tish’s lilting Welsh accent was as pronounced as ever. She was also married and the mother of a six-month-old baby boy.

Tish would be forty soon too, but Izzie was facing it from a different vantage point to her friend.

Everyone had moved their chairs to get a better view of the fashion show, so when it was time for the auction, Brioni Suit Guy was sitting much nearer to her. Izzie hadn’t noticed until her auction programme fell and he got up smoothly, picked it up and held it out towards her.

‘Thank you,’ she said, startled, reaching for it.

‘Unpainted nails, how refreshing,’ he remarked.

Izzie never polished her nails with anything but clear gloss. In a sea of exquisite manicures, her almost-nude hands stood out.

‘I’m not a curly girl,’ she said absently. She felt too jolted by Linda’s conversation to resume the same level of interest in the guy. He’d hardly be interested in her, anyway: what with her shrivelling ovaries and skin that no amount of Dermalogica facials could refresh.

‘What?’ he asked.

‘I’m not a curly girl.’

‘I wasn’t talking about your hair.’ His fingers didn’t reach to touch the caramel curls that were streaked with honey tones at ferocious cost in Salon Circe every six weeks. But he looked at her as if he was thinking of it.

Linda had slipped off to the bathroom, so her seat was free and Brioni Suit took it, pulling it so close to Izzie that she felt her breath catch. She was a tall woman and instinctively knew if people were taller than her. He was.

‘I’m Joe Hansen,’ he said, holding out his hand.

‘Izzie Silver,’ she replied automatically, catching his and feeling something inside her jolt at the touch of that firm, masculine hand.

Nearly forty, but she could still feel the surge of attraction, couldn’t she?

And the way he was looking at her, watching, made her think that he wasn’t looking for a twenty-five-year-old. He was looking at her.

Smiling, a nice, real smile. Making her think of him with that shirt ripped off, and her close to him, kissing him, being cradled in those big arms, his mouth closed over the brown nub of her nipple. Phew.

Even now, Izzie could recall every precise detail of the moment. ‘So, what’s the “curly girl” thing?’ he asked.

Wiping the nipple-sucking vision from her mind, Izzie grinned at him now, not her sassy New Yorker-by-adoption grin but the born-and-bred-country-girl grin her family would have recognised. ‘My best friend from school used to call that sort of thing “curly”. Don’t know why. She had an odd way with words. Curly means the sort of person who loves pink ribbons and hairclips, makes her eyes look like Bambi’s and believes in eating before a dinner date so men won’t think she’s a great horse of a creature with a huge appetite.’

BOOK: Cathy Kelly 3-book Bundle
10.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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